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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Top Tips For Communications Professionals

Julian Scola shared his expertise and experience
in EU policy and energy communications.
Julian Scola, this week's Sustainability Communications Lunch speaker, set out his top tips for successful communications.  A seasoned EU policy and energy communicator and campaigner, Julian is former Communications Director for the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and has also worked for the Party of European Socialists (PES) and WWF.

Julian presented sound advice which generated a lot of debate, particularly around media relations.  Here are Julian’s top tips for communicators:

1/ Find the time to do a strategy
One key takeaway from the Lunch is that developing a communications strategy is key.  Julian said that communications activities done in isolation never bring the same results as activities done as part of a strategy.  While you might not think you have the time to do a strategy, it's essential.  

2/ Work on your messaging
Messaging is obviously a key part of any communications activities and developing messaging documents will help you know what to say and how to phrase it.

3/ Amplify and rebut
Julian described two useful approaches to policy communications - amplify and rebut.  Amplifying is where we build on the positive messages and rebutting is addressing negative or incorrect views.

4/ Mobilise your network
Of particular importance to communicators in the Brussels bubble is how to filter the message down at national level.  Julian suggests mobilising your network early and using member organisations to disseminate your message.

5/ Prepare materials in advance
Share press releases in advance, under embargo, to facilitate the diffusion of news at national level, if necessary with a national policy angle.  

6/ Don’t compromise (too much)
When walking the fine line between communications and public affairs or lobbying, compromise is key.  But Julian advised communicators to stick to their guns and not to compromise too much.  The message that reaches the journalist and other audiences must be relevant and digestible.  

7/ Plan and monitor social media
Facebook and other social media platforms are useful tools for communicators but they should be planned and monitored.  It's not enough, Julian said, just to give social media to a trainee and hope for the best.  

8/ Give MEPs visibility
MEPs, ministers, CEOs and other high-profile figures want to be seen to be active, so as communicators, we can provide a platform for photo opportunities and media coverage.  

9/ Reach journos in capital cities
Even in the Brussels bubble, we should extend our reach to key media in Member State capitals like London, Paris and Berlin.  

10/ Write press releases with the media’s interests in mind
Press releases are for the press so should be written for the media, with the media's interests in mind.  We also discussed the value of press releases in today's era of social media.  

11/ Give journalists exclusivity
It's all about exclusivity and being a trusted source.  Julian suggested offering the story as an exclusive to one leading media outlet in each key Member State and then if necessary following up with a wider press release on the day of publication.

12/ Build relationships with individual journalists
Julian stressed the importance of building relationships with individual journalists, which is a more effective strategy than filling up journalists' inboxes with irrelevant press releases.

13/ Don’t try to ‘educate’ journalists
It's not our job to 'educate' the media.  We have to tailor our messages to their needs and level of understanding, not the other way around.  

14/ Translate where appropriate
In Brussels and in international markets, we're often faced with the question of whether to translate press releases.  Julian advised speaking to journalists about their needs.  For some of the national press agencies, a national language version is welcome.

15/ Ring journalists in the morning
Understanding the media's deadlines is key and as a general rule, Julian recommended calling journalists in the morning.

The presentation was followed by a very interesting and dynamic discussion with the whole group.  We touched on how to streamline sign-off procedures and set deadlines for approval, whether it should be policy officers or media people talking to the press, how to bring together communications and public affairs, whether messaging should be separate from the communications strategy and how to approach different target audiences.  We looked at product placement, how to tailor messages to media like women's and health magazines and how to approach broadcasters with social messaging, as well as the need for creativity in communications.

We are very grateful to Julian Scola for sharing his considerable experience from a range of sectors with the Sustainability Communications Lunch.  

Blog by Kathryn Sheridan

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